Dom Bess shines in the heat as England stay on top of India

Spinner takes prize wicket of Virat Kohli after Jofra Archer starts fast for tourists

First Test, day three: India 257-6 off 74 overs (C Pujara 73, R Pant 91, D Bess 4-55, J Archer 2-52) trail England 578 off 190.1 overs (J Root 218, D Sibley 87, B Stokes 82) by 321 runs.

The third day in Chennai was a feast for the senses. India's Rishabh Pant had demonstrated the power of nominative determinism with a breathtaking 91 but it was England who were the happier at stumps, as Dom Bess led the tourists off the field with four key India wickets stuffed into the pockets of his dirty whites.

With Jofra Archer having earlier wiped out the openers, Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, the hosts closed on 257 for six and, having spent two and a bit days watching Joe Root's tourists amass 578 all out, they found themselves in unfamiliar territory: 321 runs in arrears with six sessions of this compelling first Test to come.

Joe Root, architect of England's second highest total in India through his epic 218, will have been delighted with the efforts of his team on another day of sapping heat, not least figures of four for 55 from Bess that included the prized scalp of Virat Kohli and what proved the all-important demise of the incendiary Pant.

The off-spinner, once again looking as if he had just walked off the playing fields at Blundell’s school in Tiverton, might have been forgiven for feeling anxious before this series opener. Root had flirted with the idea of restoring Moeen Ali to the XI during the buildup, or at least was happy for India to believe this.

If the latter, it was a potentially high-risk strategy as regards the confidence of a young off-spinner such as Bess. Yet the 23-year-old continued to ride the wave of optimism that has been a hallmark of his nascent Test career, adopting the attacking lines that went missing at times in Sri Lanka and reaping fine rewards from his 23 overs.

It was Archer who set the tone initially, however, with a five-over new-ball burst that sent Sharma and Gill packing and underlined the fast bowler’s obvious value in this part of the world. Root had spoken of Archer’s fire in the nets last week and the 25-year-old, perhaps driven by some vengeful thoughts after a golden duck on day two, proved this wasn’t just hype.

Both openers had plenty of time to ponder the looming challenge when England forged on in the morning for an additional 23 runs. But when Sharma edged a rising leg-cutter behind on six, and Gill's otherwise eye-catching 29 was ended by a fine tumbling catch from Jimmy Anderson at mid-on, the pair found themselves back in the dressing room of the Chepauk Stadium pondering the lunch menu.

Out in the middle Kohli was greeted by a menacing bouncer from Archer, while his opposite number, Root, was enjoying the attacking freedom that such a meaty total allows, borrowing a recent tactic from India’s time in Australia by attacking Chesteshwar Pujara’s ribs with a leg slip stationed in anticipation.

The pair survived through to the break to see India 59 for two but England dried up any progress after the resumption. Anderson got the SG ball to reverse fleetingly and Bess confidently tossed the ball up outside off stump in a bid to get the two seasoned right-handers pushing away from their bodies.

Lavish turn was not forthcoming but the tactic still paid off when an inside edge from Kohli on 11 was gobbled up Ollie Pope at short leg. Bess kept his emotions in check – despite a pre-match prediction that he would go "loony" if he managed to remove India's kingpin – and was soon celebrating once more when a full toss to Ajinya Rahane produced an acrobatic one-handed catch by Root at cover.

What followed was just as staggering, frankly. At 73 for four, India should have been in tatters. Yet Pujara and Pant combined for a heady mix of traditional occupation and nu-school disco cricket in a stand of 119 that saw Jack Leach’s bowling figures – none for 94 off 17 overs by the close – positively torched.

While Pujara was content to play the patient game honed by his father’s dutiful lessons as a child back in Rajkot, Pant was every bit the modern Indian Premier League superstar, launching Leach for four sixes in the space of six balls. Their half-centuries, coming from 106 and 40 balls respectively, were equally impressive.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this was mindless aggression from Pant, either. Like his fellow southpaw Ben Stokes on day two, he had simply rationalised that defending Leach out of the footholes was inviting trouble and so instead opted to back the hand-eye coordination that makes him such an electric talent.

After India reached 154 for four at tea, Pujara began to open up also, with Bess starting to be given some tap. But just when Root was beginning to run out of ideas, the fortune that gifted his off-spinner a five-wicket haul in Galle three weeks ago returned, Pujara pulling a long hop into the back of Pope at short leg on 73 and seeing the deflection balloon to Rory Burns at midwicket.

Such a freakish dismissal – one that would not have counted had the ball hit Pope’s helmet – was not going to deter Pant, who continued to wield his bat like a blacksmith at the forge. But just nine short of a third Test century the mistake finally came, Leach holding on safely in the deep to hand Bess his fourth.

Thereafter England toiled a touch, Root going slightly defensive and burning two optimistic reviews as Washington Sundar and Ravichandran Ashwin added 32 for the seventh wicket before the close. But with Pant gone and Bess and Archer up and running during what is their first Test outing in India, the England captain’s 100th appearance continues to be a gilded affair. - Guardian